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Emerging issues regarding the assessment and management of seafood safety and quality

03 October 2014

FAO has published a new technical paper on current practices and emerging issues in seafood safety and quality, including the changing regulatory framework at international level, in the context of the World Trade Organization Codex Alimentarius Commission, FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, and the World Organisation for Animal Health.

The paper, published in August 2014, also discusses the challenges facing developing countries, including the potential mounting pressure on developing countries to meet private standards. Developing country producers and processors have so far had relatively little exposure to such pressure, due to three key factors:

  • With notable exceptions – such as canned tropical tuna or shrimps – developing countries supply proportionately small volumes to markets where private standards are prevalent, such as the EU markets of Germany and the UK.
  • Developing countries supply non-processed, or minimally processed, fish and seafood, while private standards apply mainly to processed value-added products for brands or private labels. For example, developing countries’ processed fish products represent less than 10% of those sales in French and Italian supermarkets. With the exception of canned products, fish and seafood from developing countries tend to be imported as frozen whole fish or fillets – and these products demand few requirements over and above those mandated by public regulation.
  • Developing countries tend to operate in supply chains with low levels of integration and, therefore, limited direct interface with retailers and private standards schemes.

The latter element is discussed in further detail in the paper, highlighting that the differences in supply chain structures will result in differences in the exposure to pressure to comply with private standards. Three types of supply chains structures exist in developing countries.

  • Vertically integrated supply chains: “where the chain activities of fish farming/harvesting, processing and transportation to the European wholesaler/retailer are fully under the control of one transnational company”.
  • Collaborative supply chains: where larger producers or groups of small producers “work with exporters that in turn, via their relationships with importers, translate market specifications back down” to producers.
  • Fragmented supply chains: “categorised by a range of small-scale suppliers”. In this case, “there are less-direct relationships by which information about food safety and quality requirements can be passed on to producers.”

The study highlights that most developing counties exports are traded through the latter type of supply chain, which limits their interface with private standards, reflecting also their inability to engage with such schemes. “The result”, concludes the paper, “is that they are missing out on the opportunities such schemes might offer in terms of the potential to produce more value-added products and to access lucrative segments of developed country markets.”

Editorial comment

In the EU and other profitable fish markets, supermarkets increasingly dominate the distribution of fish and seafood products, and, as a result of increased public awareness on sustainability and quality criteria, their procurement policies are increasingly demanding for producers. In the EU, the level of regulatory requirements is also increasing, including new requirements in terms of labelling, traceability and SPS standards. Ensuring that information about both retailers and public requirements flows down to ACP producers, and that necessary support is provided for them to be able to comply with these new, often costly requirements, can only take place if the various stakeholders of the production process – fishers, fish farmers, exporters, EU importers and retailers – are better inter-linked. This is already often the case for tuna products, where the value chain is highly vertically integrated, and efforts would have to focus on small-scale fisheries and aquaculture operations – some successful experiences already exist, which could be documented and shared. Assistance in improving infrastructure and legislation in ACP countries to promote compliance with standards is also required. 


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